A French oil tanker sailing off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire is suspected of having been hijacked by pirates. The tanker had a crew of 17 on board an there has been no contact with the ship since yesterday.
Later reports from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) point to the suspected hijacking of the Luxembourg registered, 7113 tonne, 'Gascogne' with a crew of 17 on board having been confirmed.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said the owners of the French oil tanker, Sea Tankers, lost contact with the ship at 0659 hours local time yesterday, February 3 at 04:07.38°N, 003:54.42°W, 70 nautical miles south of the port of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire. According to 20 minutes, a French diplomatic source said there were no French nationals on board the tanker. Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister told a press conference that he was in contact with the authorities in the region the ship was seized.
The hijacking was the latest in a series of incidents involving pirates and commercial shipping in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. Whilst acts of piracy on the high seas by Somali pirates operating in the sea lanes off Africa’s east coast have been in decline. There have been three attacks in the last five days in the Gulf of Guinea according to IMB.
Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre told AFP,
"The missing tanker is suspected (to have been) hijacked by pirates. It appears pirates are moving towards the Ivory Coast because Nigeria and Benin have increased patrols in the Gulf of Guinea."
He also said the IMB had already issued a warning to shipping.
On January 16, another tanker was hijacked off Abidjan close to the location of the latest attack by pirates. On that occasion, the ship’s cargo was stolen and the crew of 16 were released unharmed. The ship later docked at Lagos, Nigeria. The IMB also reports a tanker having been fired upon by pirates who attempted to engage the tanker during a one hour skirmish. During that attack, the pirates, who appeared to be well armed, are reported to have fired a rocket propelled grenade at the tanker, but missed the target.
Today, there was a further report of an attack on a tanker, this time with fatal consequences. The IMB said armed persons with guns approached and fired upon a chemical tanker at its anchorage at Lagos. An onboard naval security team resisted the attack and the pirates moved off but one crew member died during the medical evacuation as a result of an injury sustained during the firing.
Côte d'Ivoire recorded its first act of piracy last October, when suspected Nigerian pirates captured a Panamanian flagged tanker carrying more than 32,000 tons of gasoline near the port of Abidjan. 24 sailors were later released unharmed.
The attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Guinea appear to follow a similar pattern. The IMB’s spokesman told France24, “It appears that the Nigerian pirates are spreading. All of these vessels were tankers carrying gasoline. They’re all taken back to Nigeria to siphon off the oil, then the crews are freed. This whole process takes about five or six days,”
Given the timing of the attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Guinea, it seems unlikely that these are directly connected to events in Mali but are a purely criminal enterprise for monetary gain.